December 11th-20th, 2001
A few rest days to explore Canberra. First day I walked around town including Australian War Memorial and Bicycle Museum. Second day I took a city bus tour including parliament houses, Australian Institute of Sport and war memorial again. Third day I cycled past embassies, visited the new National Australian Museum, the Royal Australian Mint and the High Court.
Canberra was established as a new national capital after Australian federation in 1901 (rather than pick Sydney or Melbourne largest cities in the biggest states...though it was specified that in the interim parliament would meet in Melbourne and that national capital would be within 100 miles of Sydney). Land was bought in 1911 and in 1913 it was named Canberra for the aboriginal term "meeting place".
Canberra is thus a planned city, laid out with wide tree-lined streets and large government buildings and memorials. Things are spread out giving me more of an impression of suburb than big city. Makes walking take a bit longer. Todays paper even had an article about kangaroos drowning in Lake Burley Griffen, a large man-made lake in middle of the city (filled in 1967). I doubt kangaroos would be adventuresome enough to make it to botanic gardens in middle of Sydney or Melbourne.
Until the "temporary" parliament house was built in 1927, parliament met in Melbourne. The old parliament house served as parliament house until the new ($AUS 1.1 billion) parliament house opened in 1988. Tours of both houses were very nicely done, allowing one to see senate and house chambers, interesting displays (e.g. one of four copies of the Magna Carta) and some offices. I've also by now learned more about how Australian government fits together including reading the constitution (I found intriguing how some specific colonies were mentioned: New Zealand could join as an "original" state, Queensland could split into several states, WA didn't join at first but was included...).
The Australian War Memorial is on one end of a long mall with views to parliament house on the other end. I found it surprisingly large... essentially a large museum chronicling Australian involvement in Boer War, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam and smaller conflicts. I took a two hour guided tour and spent two more hours looking around. Australia has 100,000+ war dead honored on rolls. Over 60,000 casualties in WWI (for a population of less than five million... 14% of all who served), almost as many in WW2 (5% of all who served). The museum had many displays but I found descriptions of Gallipoli, aircraft displays and the Boer War particularly interesting and informative.
I walked down the long mall leading from the Australian War Memorial with small memorials along the way. From there back through main shopping malls in center of town.
The tour bus went past some of the 80 embassies and high commissions in Canberra (a high commission is similar to embassy, but from a commonwealth country). Interesting to see how some countries had adopted a theme, e.g. pagodas for the Chinese embassy, a southern mansion for USA. Across from the old parliament house there was even an "aboriginal tent embassy" set up as a protest some years ago. Our bus drove to Mount Ainslie for a good look over the city.
The Australian Institute of Sport is in suburbs and is training site for 26 sports, 14 of which are based in Canberra. Scholarships are offered to pay for some 600 athletes to live and train at AIS. To be admitted you need to be tops at local levels. Funding comes mostly from Australian government, with some corporate sponsors. At AIS there are large pools, gymnasiums, gymnastics areas as well as a small hall of fame. I was most surprised to see large numbers of young gymnasts, grade school age. During Olympics one hears stories of these young kids spending hours per day training, but here it was in real life.
The bicycle museum is in nearby Dickson a few km north of city center. A variety of old bikes in middle of a club with pokies (poker machines) and other gambling.
I dropped off my bicycle at Lonsdale Cyclery for checkup and replacement of worn parts. Also checked up on internet cafes and shops in town and bought India supplies (mosquito net, water tablets).
On the 13th I picked up my bicycle and went for a ride to spot embassies. It was fun to see some of the unique aspects for different countries (see photos). I found at least the following: USA, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Germany, France, Netherlands, Greece, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Guinea, Cambodia, Israel, Egypt and Brazil. In addition, the following had empty lots with signs: Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The National Australian Museum was just opened this year. It has displays on flora, fauna, aborigines, vegemite, language, communications and other classic Australian items. It was fun to see it together in one place. Also here was a display "Mission to Mars" with excellent show of space exploration. Even had a 3D film with the glasses.
The Royal Australian Mint was opened in 1966, same year Australia shifted over to decimal currency (previously 12 cents to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound). Here they stamp out Australia's circulating coins as well as commemorative coins and medals. Interesting to see similarities in process with plastic molding. Different quality standards and processes were used for circulating coins as commemorative coins. Circulating coins are stamped at up to 650/minute. The special coins have filtered air. Seems like commemorative coins and medals are an important side business. I paid $2 here to stamp out a $1 coin (valid with special mint mark).
The High Court of Australia moved to Canberra in 1980 (previously in Sydney and Melbourne) and has an impressive building that is surprisingly open. There are three courtrooms each with different number of chairs. All seven justices sit on constitutional issues. Five justices hear criminal and civil appeals. One justice hears appeals for leave and other matters. Hence three courtrooms with seven, five and one justice chair respectively.
More Canberra walking on the 13th as the city is quite spread out. In the evening or tomorrow, hoping to meet up with Brendan and Wendy to join them on last days of their ride back to Bowral completing their one lap of Australia.
Overall impressions are of a very recent capital, fairly open, lots of parks,
spread out making for long walks and still more suburban than city. The openness
of buildings strikes me as bit of a cross between a US state capital and
Washington DC, though the preponderance of memorials, museums, embassies, etc is
more regal and national. The British heritage also comes out here more
than elsewhere I've been.
An easy ride today back into New South Wales. Some gentle climbs and descents through some rolling terrain. Most of todays ride was along an expressway, two lanes of high speed traffic each way. Fortunately a reasonable 2m shoulder, though it wears a bit to have traffic keep zooming past at 110 km/h.
Left early again and came up a gentle grade as I left Canberra. Not much traffic early, nor do I suspect much later. At 17 km near top of the hill was border to NSW...last border crossing for Australia. From here a gentle descent and then climb again. Several rest areas named for Victoria Cross recipients here.
The route came along an area listed as Lake George. The lake looked mostly dry, though was still very flat riding. Just past north end of the lake, I stopped at settlement named Collector at 55 km. Collector had a cafe and a service station/general store. Had brekky here and read the newspaper.
From Collector back on the main highway. Up ahead I saw two cyclists. Brendan and Wendy had passed while I was in town. We rode from this point together. The kms went fairly quickly and were fairly flat. We stopped briefly at McDonalds at the Big Marino and then found a place in Goulburn.
Goulburn has population of 24,000 and describes itself as Australia's oldest
inland town. There are many nice old buildings here including a historic
Today a short day as I joined Brendan and Wendy in riding to their block of land in Wingello. They were in end mode and excited as familiar landmarks passed. I was also pleased to see the "s" signs starting with "S 190" as distances to Sydney were now being listed.
After 8 km of slow climb from Goulburn, we rode the Hume Highway with busy two lanes of high speed traffic. At 27 km was a service entrance with restaurants. Stopped here for some brekky before stopping in old town of Marulan. This town used to have Hume Highway but had now been bypassed. Several nice old shops and buildings here. Still a few gentle hills to go over.
Just past Marulan was turnoff on back road to Wingello. Quieter and
pleasant riding with some gentle hills. We came into Wingello and were
there before noon. Brendan's brother Adrian had set up a tarp and big
welcome sign for Brendan and Wendy. In afternoon I joined their families
as they came together in celebration, it was a fun afternoon overall.
Today an interesting day joining Brendan and Wendy on their ride completion. We started at camp in Wingello. Brendan's parents and brother's family had also joined in camping overnight, with others staying through the evening, so it was a festive group.
We left Wingello and cycled with fog and overcast skies. A few slight hills through Penrose. As we approached Bundadoon, a cyclist with motor assist came the other way... rest of cycling club was waiting at Bundadoon. From there, we slowly picked up cyclists from the club that Brendan and Wendy had ridden with.
The pace increased as the rolling party came through Exeter and small town of Moss Vale to Bowral. Outside Bowral at 45 km, we paused for a police escort for a little bit down the main street. Brendan and Wendy led the parade downtown to the square where the Lions Club had coordinated festivities. A small crowd with balloons and welcome speeches. Overall, Brendan and Wendy had completed their ride... 18,300+ kilometers and at least as impressive, more than $25,000 raised for Leukemia Foundation. These funds will help out of town families with accommodation when staying with sick loved ones in the big cities.
All that remained was a victory lap. Berrima is a historic town, 8 kms
away where the cycling club regularly meets after a ride. Brendan and
Wendy's bicycles were decorated like peacocks with balloons as they led a
procession over the hill to Berrima. Nice historic town here with an old
jail and nice shops. We had lunch and visited with folks at Berrima before
riding at end of day back to Moss Vale. Victory lap and B&W's ride
really complete on arrival back at Moss Vale.
Today a relaxed start and busier finish as I got closer to Sydney. I started by joining Brendan and Wendy in riding to Bargo. In Bargo was Brendan's parents house and also the mailing address we'd used to forward a package from Hawaii (thanks Tom & Koren!) that unfortunately hadn't arrived before today...
Nice to join "locals" in riding, since they know the quieter back roads. Riding from Moss Vale, our first challenge was a steep hill at 10 km. It had a nice descent and after that it was mostly downhill. We climbed into clouds, so missed some of the spectacular views, but still a nice ride. This area had a few orchards and otherwise nice pastures and livestock.
Went mostly downhill, meeting with Brendan's sister Angela who joined us the last kms. At 39 km was Bargo and Post office. The package had arrived! Great! In it were India/New Zealand items I had originally planned to pick up in Hawaii, e.g. lock, bike supplies. While I had originally sent these items, that was ten months ago, so almost like Christmas! (Perhaps after spending a year with just gear that fits on my bike... I can repeat this phenomenon as I unpack my storage room finding "new" things for Christmas or birthday :-)... or at least consider how much I really need... ).
We arrived at Brendan's parents mid-morning, 41 km so far. Relaxed, had lunch and looked around the farm. Having spent parts of three days with Brendan's and Wendy's families, I'm grateful to hospitality shown (thanks!). Also interesting as their trip finished up, it has me reflect on pending completion of my Australia segment... excited to be almost done, though also I suspect I'll miss touring Australia...so far, it has been a wonderful experience.
After lunch, we parted ways and I rode towards Appin. In Appin was Bain Masonry, the Bain's business. I had met John and Berryl and Dot and Dave on September 22nd when we were both camped by the shelter in the Nullarbor. They'd invited me to stay, either in Wollongong area or at the factory, and I took them up on the offer...
The road from Bargo went back to the busy Hume Highway for 13 km before climbing on a smaller road via Winton at 61 km. From Winton, along a back road and to Appin with a nice descent/climb to Broughton Pass along the way. This was a steep chasm with old canal as part of the Sydney water system.
John had been hoping I'd be their earlier. Rather than stay at the factory, could I join them at home? Sure, though I wanted to make certain I cycled the entire distance around Australia. We settled on me riding 17 km uphill to Bulli Pass and getting a ride in John's ute from there. The next morning, John would drop me off at Bulli Pass again... some good climbing, but I got up in an hour for 88 km for the day. John showed me some of the nice views from the escarpment before we drove down the hill.
Had another pleasant evening with John and Berryl and Dot and Dave...and good
meal as well! Tomorrow will be Sydney!
Had brekky with John and Berryl before we loaded my bike back in the ute. We drove back up the escarpment to same place from last night and repacked the bike. For the first 20 km there was both a motorway and the old highway. As a result, the road was surprisingly quiet. After that point, two roads joined, but there was good shoulder as well as caution bicycles type signs. A few slight rises, but generally downhill as I started at 400m and ended at 0m. A few shops at Heathcote and much busier as I came to Sutherland. The shoulder went away, but fortunately enough lights to slow down the traffic. I was enthusiastically riding and not stopping much this morning.
At 50 km came across an old bridge to cross Botany Bay, the original place the first fleet landed. Road split here and I followed city center signs. A few kms later, in Rockdale, the main airport traffic split off to a motorway and Princes Highway as an urban street. Passed close to the airport at 60 km and tall buildings soon thereafter. Last few kms were busy city streets, until at 68 km I came down the last hill and to the Sydney Opera House.
It was nice to reach this point I had officially started some 230 days before
(with about 48 rest days so about half a year of cycling days). Brendan
and Wendy had come down via train for the finish. Neat! We took some
of the obligatory finish photos and then wandered around Opera House and main
harbor. Bade farewell (sniff) and found a place to stay for three days in
Sydney and started to plan a Sydney visit as well as anticipate New Zealand
coming up. Also a reminder that on December 21st, I will no longer be
reading email at Pocketmail, so firstname.lastname@example.org
will become my preferred address (and less frequently since it will be from
On the 19th, I first walked about 5 km via Kings Cross to nearby Edgecliff. Kings Cross is supposed to be the red light district, backpackers center, etc. Saw many internet cafes, takeaway shops and some risqué shops. However, fairly quiet on a Wednesday morning.
I had an appointment at Edgecliff Medical Center for travel immunizations for India. Got my malaria pills and topped up on polio booster and typhoid shot. It all took longer than I was hoping, but better safe than sorry. From Edgecliff, train back to the city and walked through skyscrapers and past monuments and historic buildings. Back to the harbor and wharf buildings with the ferry terminal.
In afternoon, I took a 15 minute ferry ride across the harbor to the Taronga Zoo. The zoo had a good collection of animals with a sequence of interactions... cuddle a koala, feed a giraffe, bird show, etc. It was fun walking through the zoo and seeing the animals. Interesting that I'd seen many of the Australian animals wild... though the platypus in the zoo was too shy to be seen, just like in the wild.
On the 20th, first more errands and then a walk along the monorail (like Disneyland in Sydney!) Internet cafe has "happy hour" at opening time. Used this time to write some grad school recommendations and otherwise surf the net.
Sydney has a monorail that goes along a three mile loop in the west side and comes by every five minutes. Decided to walk this loop and see sights along the way. I walked through a nice small chinatown before coming to Paddington Market. The market is an extensive almost flea market with a huge number of stalls. Saw at least four stalls selling only cell phone covers, two selling just socks and many with stuffed kangaroos and Australia stuff (go here for cheaper stuff than the Rocks). Reminded me of Victoria Market in Melbourne.
From Paddington market, the route went past the Powerhouse Museum, a former power station, now dedicated to arts and sciences. It didn't look that interesting, so I continued past the convention center and to the Maritime Museum.
Wow! Sydney has a wonderful museum with exhibits on a little of everything connected to the sea. I took a tour of the old storage wharf, walked through an old ship James Craig, walked through a recent submarine (HMAS Onslow 1969-1999) and destroyer (HMAS Vampire 1959-1986. The museum had exhibits on everything from passenger liners, the California gold rush vs. Australia gold rush, Darwin beer can regatta, Sydney to Hobart race, etc. I really enjoyed it and before I knew it spent most of the afternoon.
Also docked in Darling Harbor were boats from the Volvo around the world sailing race (click here). Each boat is the same model, so differences are in the crew abilities. Boats arrived on a stopover in early December and will leave again on Boxing Day. There was a nice little village with displays and information about the race. Boxing Day is also date that the Sydney to Hobart race starts. This race was infamous in 1998 when terrible seas caused multiple deaths and a majority of the boats to cancel the race.
Before I knew it, the afternoon was gone around Darling Harbor. Walked
through streets busy with Christmas shoppers and back to my hotel. In the
evening I rode to Clarence Street Bicycle shop to make certain my pedals were
loose enough to get off at the airport.
December 21st; Farewell Australia
Farewell Australia, at least for now... A day to cycle to the airport and fly to New Zealand, so let me write a few overall impressions:
I've found bicycle touring to be a wonderful way to see Australia. While I've only seen a small slice, I've gone from Australia being a "blank map" to filling in many details, e.g. where to find sugar cane, hills, wheat, sheep, crocodiles, emus, coal, copper, lead, zinc, iron, boab trees, coral reefs, diamonds and so much more. Each day another ~100 km piece of the montage. I found the roads to be better than the US and drivers also slightly better on average. This is particularly true in the tropics. During my several months across the north, I had no rain and mostly tailwinds. What more can a cyclist want! Hopefully this web site can assist and help inspire others to go see more of Australia, even if by car or coach...
On arrival, I noticed obvious differences, e.g. the moon is tipped the other way, revolving doors go the other way, weather systems swirl differently around highs and lows, riding on the left, little flip switches on outlets, international road signs, colored money, mostly British spellings, etc. At least as interesting is how familiar and similar it feels to parts of the US I've been, particularly the small towns in both countries. Bill Bryson has compared small town areas with 1950s USA towns complete with old radio songs. It felt more recent to me (1980s or 1970s) but I can see some resemblance.
My favorite riding has been through outback areas. Long distances between towns and roadhouses, but beautiful scenery, wildlife and a sense of calm. It is here that I most noticed a unique culture of caravaners, Britz vans, backpackers, road train truckies, roadhouses, etc. Tourist regions like the Red Center and Top End blend into the outback with their scenery, tour buses and mixtures of tourists. It is a bit ironic that so many Australians live in urban areas and around the big cities (and from what I read, many don't get to the outback).
People have been wonderful, helpful and friendly. It has definitely added to the experience to visit with locals and learn more. At risk of missing many, I'd put extra special salute here to: Rob and Becky, Rod and Gwen, Vicky and Darryl, Jill and Charles, Brendan and Wendy. Thanks! Thanks also to others including cyclists I've taken photos of and share road information with.
Unlike a country like Canada, Australia very much feels like one country with not so many differences between the states. Sure there might be squabbles about what rugby is the "real" one or sport rivalries or regions like Tassie/WA feeling left out... However, one is struck with how similar and how peoples outlook is towards one Australia across all the states, e.g. preferring uniform laws and treatment. If there is a split in Australia, it is more between big cities and outback "bush", than between the states.
If I had to pick favorites, my favorite capital city would be Darwin with Adelaide a close second and Canberra up as well. However, they all have their unique and interesting bits. Picking a favorite region to ride would be the Kimberley, though this is hard to pick because much of enjoyment has come from seeing variations and combinations.
After a long ride, I typically end with an even longer list of places I missed but would really like to come back and see... the Townsville-Cairns-Normanton circuit or up the Murray/Darling rivers are two examples. It may be a while, but I expect to be back to more more of Australia...
Thanks to my parents for their support and thanks to my father for all the work he put into the web site. Someone had to be tracking that red line around the map...
Now on to New Zealand. Updates will be slower in coming since they go via internet cafes and ground mail.
Unless otherwise specified, this page © Copyright 2001-2002, Mike Vermeulen